-- Outside of a few trips to town as a visiting player, Eric Lindros
hadn't spent any significant amount of time in Philadelphia since the Flyers traded him to the New York Rangers
in the summer of 2001.
While he may have been gone more than 10 years, the fans who cheered for him during his eight seasons with the Flyers showed how much big No. 88 still meant to them.
Lindros received one of the two biggest ovations from the 45,808 fans packed into Citizens Bank Park for the 2012 Molson Canadian NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game on Saturday.
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"It was real special," Lindros said. "It truly was. There's great fans here, all 45,000 and I know there were some that couldn't make it. It really was nice to walk into such a warm environment."
Teammates also noticed how loud the fans were for Lindros.
"When Eric was here he was one of the hardest-working guys," goalie Neil Little
told NHL.com. "Just a pure powerhouse and that's Philadelphia hockey. I'm sure they remember and they gave him a nice round of applause. That was nice to see."
"It was great for him to be here," added Eric Desjardins
. "It's nice to see them put that stuff behind. For the fans, I don't think there was ever anything between the fans and Big E. Today was a great chance for them to show their appreciation. They did it with class. It was great."
, who spent most of his playing career as one of Lindros' teammates, told NHL.com he saw Lindros lifted by the reception he received.
"Eric looked really happy," said Therien. "He looked like there's been something put to bed here. I don't know if it was wearing on him, but as far as I was concerned, the fans appreciated Eric as a hockey player and it looked like a great weight off his shoulders today."
Lindros won a Hart Trophy and led the Flyers to the 1997 Stanley Cup Final, but his tenure with the Flyers was marked by constant clashes between then-GM Bob Clarke and the Lindros family, and ended with Lindros sitting out the 2000-01 season as a restricted free agent and demanding a trade, which happened when he was moved to the Rangers in August 2001.
If fans were unhappy with anything that went on during Lindros' tumultuous tenure, they certainly showed they moved on.
"The issues weren't necessarily between him and the fans," said Flyers Alumni coach Keith Primeau
. "The fans loved him. … It was nice to see. Whatever the reason was, it was nice to see their appreciation for him."
And any lingering issues with Lindros and Clarke, who wore the ‘C’ for Philadelphia’s alumni, also disappeared.
"I'm sure a lot of guys didn't know how the reaction would be," said Rick Tocchet
. "They were talking and it was just like business as usual. … That was pretty cool."
"It was good," said Lindros. "We talked this morning, and it was great."
"He looked like there's been something put to bed here. I don't know if it was wearing on him, but as far as I was concerned, the fans appreciated Eric as a hockey player and it." -- Chris Therien
Lindros also showed some of the skills that made him such a dominant player in his prime. In the first period, he took a Mark Recchi
pass and started a 2-on-1 break, which he finished with a pass across to John LeClair
for an easy goal.
"Just like the old says," said Desjardins. "I was third guy in and Big E took a look at me and saw Johnny on the other side. The odds were better to pass to big John. It was great, it was in the net."
Lindros had another chance in the game's final minutes, after the Rangers pulled their goalie, but he missed an empty net.
"I only missed it by four feet," he said. "Have to work on my long-range shooting. We'll get that, maybe 15 years from now we'll try it again."
If he does, he wouldn't mind doing it again in Philadelphia.
"It was really a special day," he said. "This has been great. Really great."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK